Swaziland – judicial crisis threatens economy

Swaziland – judicial crisis threatens economy

Events in Zimbabwe receive daily news coverage in our newspapers, but news of our other neighbour, Swaziland , is sparse.

And yet conditions there are no better. Unemployment is over 40%, inflation is at 13, 9 % and Swaziland is overtaking Botswana in the SADC region on HIV-Aids infections.

Working people with no social security are dying of poverty and disease. Workers are working under very difficult conditions earning a minimum of R300 – R700 per month, working from 07h00 to 21h00 without overtime, they are locked inside factories until they have met their targets. There is also abundant use and abuse of temporary labour and unsafe conditions.

And like Zimbabwe , the Swazi government is also flouting the rule of law.

It is refusing to abide by an Appeal Court’s judgement that it allows residents forcibly removed from their homes for rejecting the King’s brother as chief over their areas, to return to their homes.

The police chief refused the order and the court then put him in prison for 30 days for contempt of court. But the policeman who tried to implement the arrest of the police chief was dismissed with immediate effect.

The government then stationed police and soldiers to prevent the residents’ return.

All judges of the Appeal Court then resigned en masse and issued a judgement that the government must retract its statement and apologise personally to each judge before they could resume their work.

But the government continues to refuse to comply with the Appeal Court judgement. And until they do, judges in the high court are refusing to handle government cases.

The Attorney General is also facing charges for threatening judges of the high court with prison, for not dropping a case against the King for abducting a girl he wanted to marry. The Attorney General has left the country before summons could be served on him. Nobody knows when he will return.

Worker action

Recently, the two main federations – the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland Federation of Labour – brought the industrial towns of Manzini and Nhlangano to a standstill with their general strike on March 4 and 5. The federations wanted to protest government’s:

position that it would never respect any court orders against it
plans to buy King Mswati III a jet worth R720 million which is half of the small country’s budget.

Government’s response

Since then Parliament has recommended that the jet should not be bought. The King and the government still have the power to decide whether to abide by this recommendation or not.

And on March 7, the King held a meeting with judicial officials including the Chief Justice. The meeting did not resolve the judicial crisis. Instead the King accused those present of not telling the truth about him to foreign media and in so doing were destroying the image of the country.

On March 21, the Chief Justice was informed of his demotion to an ordinary judge because of his outspoken views on the judicial crisis engulfing the country.

Business the victim

Meanwhile business has been the latest victim of the crumbling judicial system.

Foreign traders are now demanding upfront payment for services or products as they cannot use the courts to effect any agreements against defaulters.

The Coalition, a grouping of organisations formed to deal with the crisis, has promised to launch general strikes every month until the government agrees to adhere to the rule of law.